The King’s Men: The Jordanaires

If you’ve enjoyed an Elvis Presley song, chances are you’ve also enjoyed the sweet sounds of The Jordanaires.

The quartet sang backup vocals on many, many of Elvis’ hits, including “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “It’s Now or Never,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Don’t,” and “Surrender,” just to name a few.

We’ve shared the stories of the artists and producers who helped shape Elvis’ iconic sound, like the Blue Moon Boys and Sam Phillips, so this week, let’s get to know The Jordanaires members.

The Jordanaires enjoyed a 60-plus year career in music.

The Jordanaires enjoyed a 60-plus year career in music.

The quartet formed in 1948 in Springfield, Missouri, by brothers Bill and Monty Matthews. The group sang barbershop and gospel music, and debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in 1949.

Elvis heard The Jordanaires perform in October 1954 with country singer Eddy Arnold at the Ellis Auditorium in Memphis. He met the guys in the group and told them he loved their sound, and that he hoped they could work together. In 1956, as Elvis’ music and movie career was really taking off, he called on the group to sing backup for him on his records and at live performances. At that time, The Jordanaires were Gordon Stoker (first tenor), Hoyt Hawkins (baritone), Neal Matthews (second tenor, and in no relation to the founding Matthews members) and Hugh Jarrett (bass). Ray Walker replaced Hugh Jarrett in 1958. The Jordanaires’ line-up has changed several times throughout the years.

Behind every great singer is a great quartet - here, The Jordanaires backed Elvis on one of his "Ed Sullivan Show" appearances.

Behind every great singer is a great quartet – here, The Jordanaires backed Elvis on one of his “Ed Sullivan Show” appearances.

The Jordanaires backed Elvis on his early television performances, including his “Ed Sullivan Show” performances. The quartet backed him at his concerts, too, including his 1956 Homecoming show in Tupelo. The band backed Elvis on everything from his rock tunes to gospel numbers, from Christmas songs to his movie soundtracks.

The Jordanaires worked with Elvis until 1969. As his movie career came to a close, Elvis started prepping his return to the stage, but The Jordanaires decided to stay home in Nashville. They had a steady workload as studio musicians, working two to four sessions a day, six days a week, for more than 20 years. The quartet backed country, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel and pop artists. You can hear The Jordanaires on hits like “Crazy,” by Patsy Cline, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn and “Travelin’ Man” by Ricky Nelson, and the band has also recorded with top country stars likes of Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr and Johnny Cash. It has been estimated that more than 8 billion records featuring The Jordanaires’ backing vocals have been sold, not including their own extensive discography!

Soprano Millie Kirkham, center, was known as the unofficial fifth member of The Jordanaires. She sang backup on many of Elvis' songs, like "Blue Christmas," with the quartet.

Soprano Millie Kirkham, center, was known as the unofficial fifth member of The Jordanaires. She sang backup on many of Elvis’ songs, like “Blue Christmas,” with the quartet.

The Jordanaires were dissolved in 2013, following Gordon Stoker’s passing.

A group this legendary has, of course, received many CMT and other music awards. The Jordanaires are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1976 and 1979, The Jordanaires were given a Superpickers Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for having performed on more Top 10 records than any other vocal group in history. In November 1984, the group was honored with the CMA Masters Award for its lifetime contribution to music.

This legendary band is just one integral part of Elvis’ life and career. Explore more about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll when you visit Graceland – make your plans now, and we’ll see you in Memphis soon.


7 Comments

  1. Michael Nester

    I always enjoyed listening to the Jordanaires as backup to Elvis, and wish they had continued for they were a big part of Elvis’ sound in the 50’s and 60″s.
    Beautiful voices as Elvis had as well, though E was the best ever!

  2. Todd Vernon

    I really enjoy all the earlier songs, that feature The Jordanaires… Great songs, and sound….

  3. stephen stathis

    It all seemed pre-ordained: Elvis having the Jordanaires as back up, Otis Blackwell writing great songs, Colonel managing Elvis in a way that made him THE ICON, Mae Axton giving him Heartbreak Hotel. It’s a pity no one has published a book on Elvis’s spiritual side: his underlinings in his books, his written comments,his being a spiritual warrior, his deep need for God. I don’t know if Elvis found God but it seemed he spent his life searching for God.

    • Opie Catt

      yes…and you are right.

    • Tony Trout

      Stephen,

      There are a few books out there about Elvis’s spiritual life and search for God. One, in particular, is Larry Geller’s, “Elvis’s Search For God” & “Leaves Of Elvis’s Garden.” The former book can be found as a downloadable .PDF file (free of charge) to read.

      Like you, I do wish someone would write a really good book about Elvis’s spiritual quest/search for God. Elvis was always hungry for knowledge – especially after Geller came into the group in 1964 after Elvis’s regular hairdresser, Sal Orifice, had closed his shop in Memphis and moved to CA. Sal actually wrote a book called, “Trippin’ With The King” which, unfortunately, is not that good of a read – it’s actually a very confusing book.

      I hope that I’ve helped you a little bit with the book titles I’ve mentioned.

      Take Care,
      Tony Trout

  4. Marc-A. Comtois Comtois

    ELVIS being the GREATEST deserved the JORDANAIRES who were the greatest back-up group ever!!

  5. Sharon Crissman

    The Jordanaires were a great group for back up for Elvis. They made beautiful music together.

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